Victims and hostages bond in Philippine kidnap film

Sun Feb 12, 2012 1:35pm EST

* "Captive" is hostage drama set in southern Philippines

* Film by 2009 Cannes winner Mendoza stars Isabelle Huppert

By Sarah Marsh

BERLIN, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Boundaries between kidnappers and hostages are blurred in Philippine drama "Captive", which stars French actress Isabelle Huppert and premiered at the Berlin film festival on Sunday.

Directed by Filipino Brillante Mendoza and shot with a hand-held camera, the film is loosely based on real life events and tells the story of a group of holiday makers and missionaries kidnapped in the Philippines by an al Qaeda-linked rebel group.

Over the course of around a year in captivity in the jungle with short food supplies, including frequent shootouts with the Philippine army and encounters with unfriendly animals, the victims come to bond with their captors.

"After all these months and in the middle of the jungle, they don't have any other choice than to bond," said 51-year old Mendoza, winner of best director at Cannes in 2009. "This is how it actually happened."

Outside Pakistan and Afghanistan, the greatest danger of kidnap in Asia is in the Philippines.

Kidnapping for ransom is common in the southernmost islands, where a number of Muslim rebel groups operate including Abu Sayyaf featured in the film.

"At one point, a hostage would not even know whether to trust his kidnappers or the people who are chasing them," said Mendoza. "It is no longer about a cause but how to survive."

"Captive" is the second film about kidnapping to screen at the Berlin film festival, which has a reputation for showcasing hard-hitting movies tackling difficult themes.

"Coming Home" is about a girl who is locked up for eight years and was inspired by the case of kidnapped Austrian schoolgirl Natascha Kampusch.

In the two-hour long "Captive", Huppert's character ends up caring for one of the kidnappers who is a boy. She tends to his wounds and lets him rest his head on her lap as he sleeps, while he teaches the social worker to fire a gun.

A scene showing the Christian burial of a hostage echoes a later scene showing the Muslim burial of a kidnapper, stressing fundamental similarities between the two groups.

"It is all about humanity ... the purpose of life ... everyone in the film is a captive," said Mendoza, who interviewed members of the group, the government, the military and former hostages while researching the film.

"As a film maker, one should not take sides, one should show what is really happening ... There is a problem that needs to be addressed, a problem not only the Philippine government should address but whole world as well."

In the film, the rebels are not depicted as straightforward villains. They may be able to perpetrate brutal acts, but they also display kindness to their hostages.

Huppert said shooting the film was one of the most challenging experiences of her career.

The director sought to immerse the actors in an experience as similar as possible to that of the hostages, taking them out for five days on a boat and then into the jungle.

Mendoza frequently did not give them a script and segregated the actors playing the kidnappers and those playing the victims, allowing them to meet only on the day of the "kidnapping" when both were in costume.

"We basically didn't have the feeling it was fiction," Huppert said. "All the time we had to react to what was happening, be it to the heat, to the exhaustion or even fear." (Reporting By Sarah Marsh)